The mayors of Liverpool city region and Greater Manchester have written to all 650 MPs in advance of the 33rd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster on Friday, urging them to support fundamental reforms of the legal system known as the “Hillsborough law”.
Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham said in their letter that victims of other disasters suffer the same systemic failures that forced the bereaved Hillsborough families to fight a decades-long campaign against injustice. The Hillsborough law proposals principally are that all public officials, including police officers, should have a legal “duty of candour”; for bereaved families to have full funding for lawyers to represent them at inquests, and for public bodies to sign a charter committing them to fair conduct.
The proposals, supported by families, were developed after the 2014‑16 second inquest into the deaths of 96 men, women and children at the FA Cup semi‑final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989. However, the government has not passed any of the reforms into law.
Theresa May’s government in 2017 did support one measure, a public advocate for bereaved families, championed by the Labour MP Maria Eagle, but did not introduce it. James Jones, the former bishop of Liverpool, made 25 recommendations that formed the basis for the Hillsborough law proposals, in a 2017 report commissioned by May, but the government has not yet responded to it. Rotheram and Burnham describe that as “disrespectful to the Hillsborough families”.
The 2016 inquest jury found that the 96 people – now 97, since the death of Andrew Devine, 55, last July – were unlawfully killed due to gross negligence manslaughter by the South Yorkshire police officer in command, Ch Supt David Duckenfield. The jury also rejected years of allegations by South Yorkshire police officers that Liverpool supporters misbehaved at Hillsborough, and determined that no conduct of the supporters contributed to the disaster.
Despite that verdict, nobody has been legally held to account for causing the 97 unlawful killings, nor for the discredited police case. Duckenfield was acquitted of a criminal charge of gross negligence manslaughter in 2019.
Rotheram and Burnham wrote in their letter that injustice is also being suffered by victims of the British army’s 1950s nuclear tests, the contaminated blood scandals, the Grenfell fire and the Manchester Arena bombing.
“The reason why this pattern keeps on repeating is simple,” their letter states. “The scales of justice are weighed against ordinary families and in favour of public authorities who hold all the power.”
Saying “the need for a Hillsborough Law is clear”, they wrote: A fundamental re-balancing of the legal, coronial and judicial systems , creating a level playing field for bereaved families with agencies of the state, will prevent future generations experiencing the injustices we have seen in our lifetimes.”
A Home Office spokesperson praised the Hillsborough families’ “tremendous courage”, and said: “The Home Office has been working closely with its partners in the relevant government departments and organisations to carefully consider the points of learning made by Bishop James Jones. Our focus now is engaging with the Hillsborough families and publishing the government’s overarching response to the bishop’s report in due course.”